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An ounce of prevention

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by Iris Mounsey 21.JUL.06

Now it was happening before my eyes. A first-form student, dressed in full school uniform sat next to the conductor. She looked about 13; he about 34. She was taking the lead in the conversation, pointing to places in a notebook that lay on her lap. He displayed a cursory interest.

Wedged tightly into the seat behind the conductor, and having to sit forward, I was positioned to both hear the conversation, and to read the notebook. The notebook was full of love verses – some innocent enough, but others were mostly evocative of sexual passions.{{more}}

She made him pay attention to a particular verse. Then she popped the question. It was a whopper of a question! Had he done IT already? How many times? And with whom? He tried his best to avoid answering, but she kept up the pressure.

At this point, I felt burdened to intervene, and did so, cautioning each separately. She made no response; he excused himself by blaming her.

I do not know what would be the outcome of this dalliance but the incident stuck in my mind because it was so instructive for the many issues it raised. Why was this child so obsessed with sex? Why was she so ready to explore her obsession with someone she (perhaps) hardly knew, and who (as appearances go) is not a responsible adult? Would her parents believe that their child could be so daring in her advances? Did they even have an inkling that she was interested in men?

This child is not alone in her willingness to be promiscuous. But her behaviour, like that of so many others, seems to indict the society charged with responsibility for giving directions – instilling morals, values, mores and fostering self-respect – for failing her somewhere along the line.

Where did we go wrong? We need to do further introspection. The ongoing discussion coming in the wake of the Soufriere rapes and the revelations about the abuse, molestation, and assault on young girls is healthy and necessary. But besides thinking of punitive measures to mete out to offenders, thought has to be given to preventative means of saving the young, susceptible, and vulnerable from themselves.

How about the police setting up a hotline so concerned citizens can call in to report the whereabouts of young girls seen in questionable circumstances – such as those seen during school hours, in school uniform patrolling Little Tokyo, beaches and certain other hot spots? The police can then take them to their parents or guardians to apprise them of what is happening. What about community-based, or church-sponsored, or school- based programmes for the young to explore developmental issues and appropriate social conduct? Or how about parents making the effort to monitor the type of shows their children look at on television, or on the Internet sites they visit; checking their children’s bags and books- not just to find out if homework was done; or just being willing to explore a lead rather than swear for their offspring?

There are any number of preventative measures to help a child. The only guideline we really need is genuine concern for the well-being of the other and for the future of the nation’s children. It’s about being your brother’s keeper.

As members of this small-island community – men, women, parents, church leaders, community figures – we would be wise to widen our circle of ethical, moral, and civic responsibilities to include empowering our girls to see themselves as having value. Empowering them with self-esteem so they can choose to view themselves as more valuable than a designation in dollars and cents; and ultimately worth much more than a free van ride. Maybe if we can give them this outlook they may choose to reject the suffocating (but prevailing ) position that self-fulfillment is to be found in sex and status in motherhood.

In this shrinking world (the global village notion) we need to ask ourselves whether our ethical, social and moral obligations can afford to be narrow and static. Isn’t there a need to extend them if only for practical reasons – namely: AIDS and other STD’s; teenage pregnancy; the perpetuation of the vicious cycle of poverty; the rising crime rate and delinquency?

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